What is a ‘friendly’ state?

INFORMATION minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu has ruled that only journalists from “friendly” countries will be admitted to cover the election.

That raises the obvious

question: friendly to whom? Are countries like China, Russia, Cuba, and Angola friendly to the people of Zimbabwe or to its leaders?

Many of the countries described as friendly are only defined as such because they don’t ask awkward questions about electoral cheating or misgovernance. In fact they turn a blind eye to political coercion and electoral manipulation.

In South Africa’s case, in the 2002 presidential poll ministers arrived from Pretoria to give observers directions on what to find and what to ignore. Asked about the shortage of polling stations in the capital at the end of voting, observer mission head Sam Motsuenyane said he was sure it was “an administrative oversight”.

Reporters present fell about laughing.

Ndlovu made his remarks on friendly media at the Bulawayo Press Club where challenging questions are rarely asked. We have never understood what explains this supine response to ministerial declarations. But it could be something in the water.

Ndlovu, it would seem, is on a mission to discredit the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. How else do we explain his usurping their role? In terms of the Sadc guidelines it is the function of the commission to manage the election including accrediting observers and foreign media. By announcing that only those media palatable to the regime will be admitted, Ndlovu is making the ZEC look weak and pliable.

Amazing isn’t it that the government doesn’t grasp the damage to the credibility of the electoral process of statements of this sort!

That credibility will have been further undermined by claims made in a court application by Jonathan Moyo and Margaret Dongo last week. Their lawyer Chris Mhike argued the nomination date was proclaimed before the publication of the final report on the boundaries and names of constituencies which had the effect of reducing the nomination preparation period of would-be candidates.

Mhike said the constitution required the proclamation of a nomination date 14 days but less than 21 after the publication of the final delimitation report. He said judging by press reports the postponement was prompted by practical concerns of the major political players without regard to the law.

“My clients argue,” Mhike said, “that the primary focus should be on compliance with the law as the law is designed to protect the interests of citizens and parties other than the major political players.”

The president, it was argued, had fixed the sitting date for the nomination court and the date of the general election on the basis of a preliminary report by the delimitation commission.

Moyo argued in his affidavit that the failure to distribute the report for the benefit of the electorate and aspiring candidates was a serious breach of the law and a subversion of the democratic process.

Indeed, he said, “the failure is the clearest neutral evidence that despite the first respondent (Mugabe)’s proclamation fixing the date of the sitting of the nomination court and fixing the date of the general election, the relevant authorities are in fact not yet ready to hold the general election and to ensure its freeness and fairness purely from an administrative and logistical point of view”.

Now we can all understand why the Herald, in reporting the extension of the nomination process, slipped in a paragraph saying Moyo and Dongo’s court application had “fallen away”.

Not only was this a usurpation of the court’s role, it explains why Mugabe was so quick to move the dates. Moyo and Dongo’s court application exposed a shocking disregard for electoral due process that speaks volumes for the arbitrary conduct of our electoral system. But where was the ZEC in all this? Should they not have spotted the glaring error and advised the president accordingly?

The MDC, which should be pointing out this sort of transgression, has said nothing.

Another recent event has proved emblematic of our political and media lethargy. Simon Mann, accused of leading a mercenary gang to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, was charged with violations of the Aviation and Immigration Acts, served his term and was then secretly abducted and incarcerated in Equatorial Guinea, arguably the most savage regime on the continent.

When Mann’s sentence was complete he was detained in Zimbabwe, contrary to every notion of natural justice, on an extradition warrant from the government of Equatorial Guinea.

Nobody in Zimbabwe’s self-satisfied civil society said anything.

Very simply they didn’t want to be identified with a mercenary leader and thought it prudent to keep quiet.

This reflects the immaturity of our civic and paralegal watchdogs. The whole point about democracy is that you speak out on behalf of those you don’t like, not just those you do. You apply firm principles to all who are victims of a regime that has repeatedly used abduction as a weapon against its critics.

Mann paid the penalty for his clumsy escapade. But nothing can excuse the odious arrangement that saw two brutal regimes conspiring to keep a man in jail long after his sentence had expired. Mann is now languishing in the notorious Black Beach prison.

Outfits like Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights need to speak out for all victims of the regime, not just the politically correct.

Which brings us to the case of Attorney-General Sobusa Gula-Ndebele. Whatever you may think of Gula-Ndebele, it is both iniquitous and damaging to Zimbabwe’s reputation that the country’s chief law officer should be charged in the first place on what many will see as concocted allegations. This is political vengeance, the public will conclude, not the rule of law.

Without wishing to anticipate the current hearing, it is important that civil society condemns the harassment of judicial officers by a predatory state. It should at the same time express a view on courts which deny commercial farmers their constitutional rights because government has declared its arbitrary land seizures to be a matter of “settled policy”. When are we going to grow up as a society?

Something to be framed and hung in the office: a caption accompanying a picture in the Business Herald this week saying congestion at border posts will “soon be a thing of the past” following installation of an advanced customs clearance system by Zimra. This will remove the need for paperwork, we are told.

But we all know from experience that as soon as the Herald announces some problem becoming “a thing of the past”, it comes back to haunt us! So cut out the picture and place it prominently somewhere to remind you next time you face maddening congestion at Beitbridge.

Equally delusional, Minister of Energy Mike Nyambuya told the press that government had made available $2 trillion for the rehabilitation of Hwange thermal power station under ongoing efforts to “ensure self-sustenance of power generation and supply”.

“By September this year Zimbabwe would enjoy stable power generation and supply following a cocktail of measures being taken by government,” he was quoted as saying.

So come September, as the last lights go out across the land, we must approach Nyambuya and ask him how he likes his cocktails: Shaken or stirred?

This is not the time for demonstrations and marches,” Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri has declared.

Right now what our people need is peace and tranquility and not aimless demonstrations, marches or processions…”

Did he say this when Zanu PF conducted its so-called Million Man demo in the centre of Harare in November? No, he bit his tongue on that occasion. And does his declaration that “violence will never be tolerated in Zimbabwe” extend to opposition leaders who were savagely beaten at a police station last March? What has happened to the perpetrators of that violence,
and to those responsible for abducting and beating Law Society president Beatrice Mtetwa and her colleagues?

Chihuri urged the public to draw lessons from other trouble spots. He is quite right to do so. Violence has erupted in Kenya because the public saw the electoral process as flawed. They saw the country’s electoral commission as beholden to the incumbent. They saw the forces of law and order as suborned and appeals to the judiciary as pointless. We must indeed learn lessons from Kenya.

Simba Makoni’s decision to challenge President Mugabe in the harmonised elections next month seems to have touched a nerve with Nathaniel Manheru big time, given his apoplectic rambling in the Saturday Herald. He made an effort to discredit Makoni’s candidature because he was a nonentity who has never achieved anything on his own except as Mugabe’s “appointee”. That makes him unfit for the presidency, we were told.

Secondly, he can’t fight Joice Mujuru because he is a son-in-law of sorts; he can’t challenge Morgan Tsvangirai because his wife comes from the same neighbourhood in Buhera.

No one could miss his thinly disguised racial slurs in reference to Ibbo Mandaza.

Cool down Manheru. We appreciate your invidious position. The future is very uncertain, and the Ides of March loom. Beware!

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading